2011 Opponents: Notre Dame

Submitted by Tim on July 22nd, 2011 at 10:16 AM

This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.

The Offense

Notre Dame Offense 2010
Category Raw Rank
Yards Per Game 379.69 61
Points Per Game 26.31 67
Yards Per Play 5.52 63
Yards Per Pass 6.84 75
Pass Efficiency 129.31 59
Yards Per Rush 3.98 77
Playcall Distribution 1.16 Pass:Rush

Notre Dame replaced an offensive genius in Charlie Weis with... another one in Brian Kelly. With a really young lineup, including a rotating cast of quarterbacks, the offense struggled. It wasn't particularly pass-happy either, as even adjusted for sacks, they only threw it 1.27 times for every rush.

Part of that is the quarterback issue. Three quarterbacks played for the Irish last year, including significant reps for a true freshman. With more experience at the position, the entire offense should improve, because all things considered, it was actually quite bad last year. The Irish only broke 40 points in one game, against Western Michigan.


Dayne Crist started the year at the helm for the Irish, but mediocrity and injury combined to give plenty of playing time to Tommy Rees, with a few reps for Nate "yes that" Montana. None of them performed particularly well, which generally spells doom for a Brian Kelly offense.

Rees seems like a better long-term fit for the system (and is obviously a couple years younger), so although Crist will probably still start, expect to see him Rees in the lineup from time-to-time. There are also a few viable backups, with redshirt freshman Andrew Hendrix joined by true freshman (and early enrollee) Everett Golson, a very good athlete who needs some seasoning as a QB.

Notre Dame QBs 2010
Name Comp Att % Yds Yds/Att TD Int
Dayne Crist 174 294 59.18 2033 6.91 15 7
Tommy Rees 100 164 60.98 1106 6.74 12 8
Nate Montana 9 18 50.00 116 6.44 0 1
Notre Dame QBs Rushing 2010
Name Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Dayne Crist 52 74 1.42 4
Nate Montana 9 25 2.78 0
Tommy Rees 12 -2 -.167 0

Grade: 4/5. Based on past performance, this might be a serious overrating of the unit. However, Crist came out of high school with all the accolades, and as a redshirt junior, he should be rounding into form. Given Brian Kelly's track record with quarterbacks, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and there is some material to work with on the roster.

Running Back

Cierre Wood led the team in rushing last year, though he was part of a two-headed attack with Armando Allen (pictured at right), who completed his 12th and final year of eligibility last season. Pounder Robert Hughes, the team's third-leading rusher, also departs from last year's roster. That leaves Notre Dame with two options: either feed Wood the ball a ton, or hope another rusher emerges. With Theo Riddick finding a full-time gig at wideout, that means former Detroit Country Day (classmate of Kenny Demens) standout Jonas Gray is the best bet, or it will be a completely green player.

Notre Dame RBs 2010
Name Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Cierre Wood 119 603 5.07 3
Armando Allen 107 514 4.80 2
Robert Hughes 68 300 4.41 2
Jonas Gray 20 100 5.00 0
Notre Dame RBs Receiving 2010
Name Rec Yds Yds/Rec TD
Cierre Wood 20 170 8.50 2
Armando Allen 17 138 8.12 0
Robert Hughes 7 67 9.57 0
Jonas Gray 1 13 13.00 0

Grade: 2/5. Wood is a decent starter. Gray had some national recruiting hype but is still inexplicably waiting for his Michigan offer. He could be good, but the Irish lose too much here to predict that everything will be sunshine and lollipops [Ed-M: Unless you're a Notre Dame fan, in which case Wood will win the Heisman next year, unless Crist does]. There's a serious - nay, dire - lack of experienced depth, and if anything happens to Wood, there's a precipitous dropoff.


MichaelFloyd-court.jpgDo you mean with or without Michael Floyd? This is perhaps the biggest question for Notre Dame this season. The Irish's best offensive player by a country mile, Floyd has been oft-injured throughout his career, and is currently in limbo after a suspension for several alcohol-related arrests.

The other starting spots aren't in question. Theo Riddick is a 5-11 guy who can play outside or in the slot, TJ Jones is a similar player (though less explosive), and Tyler Eifert hopes to step up at tight end following Kyle Rudolph's early entry to the NFL. Eifert started about half of last season after Rudolph tore his hamstring. The only wideout the Irish lose is Duval Kamara, who didn't produce last year (despite being a starter) because he was so frequently injured.

Notre Dame Receivers 2010
Name Rec Yds Yds/Rec TD
Michael Floyd 79 1025 12.97 12
Theo Riddick 40 414 10.35 3
Kyle Rudolph (TE) 28 328 11.71 3
Tyler Eifert (TE) 27 352 13.04 2
TJ Jones 23 306 13.30 3
John Goodman (TE) 15 146 9.73 0
Robby Toma 14 187 13.36 0
Duval Kamara 11 112 10.18 3
Mike Ragone (TE) 3 32 10.67 0
Notre Dame WRs Rushing 2009
Name Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Theo Riddick 11 29 2.64 0
Bennett Jackson (CB) 1 20 20.00 0
Michael Floyd 1 9 9.00 0

Grade Without Floyd: 2/5. Grade With Floyd: 4/5. I was tempted to raise the with-Floyd grade even more, because he's that talented (a 2nd-Team All-American projection by Phil Steele), but one man does not a receiving corps make. The other players in the Irish's stable haven't done a whole lot, and what they have done was accomplished with Floyd drawing attention away from them. If he's not on the field to do that, it could spell trouble - though improved QB play would help them out. If Floyd is on the field, expect improvement at every position, because the Irish had a young group last year, and they should progress normally.

Offensive Line

If the Irish are to improve offensively this season, it will likely be along the offensive line. The one consistently meh part of Charlie Weis's offenses is looking to make a leap in year two under Brian Kelly after losing only one starter. That starter, Chris Stewart, was in the lineup for three years, but he'll be replaced with a former 5-star prospect in Chris Watt, a redshirt sophomore. The other starters remain unchanged, with redshirt sophomore Zack Martin at left tackle, Watt or true senior Trevor Robinson at left guard, redshirt junior Braxston Cave at center, Watt or Robinson at right guard, and 5th-year senior Taylor Dever at right tackle.

Grade: 4/5. The Irish weren't a great running team last year (in fact they were pretty bad), despite a slant toward the pass in playcalling. They were, however, pretty good in pass protection, finishing in the top 40 in sacks allowed despite their slight slant toward the pass. Replacing Stewart (who went undrafted and unnoticed by the NFL) with a very highly touted player in his third year of college should see no dropoff, and in some likelihood major improvement.

The Defense

Notre Dame Defense 2009
Category Raw Rank
Yards Per Game 357.23 50
Points Per Game 20.23 23
Yards Per Play 5.13 37
Pass Yards Per Game 215.08 54
Pass Efficiency 115.75 25
Yards Per Pass 6.35 28
Sacks Per Game 2.08 54
Rush Yards Per Game 142.15 50
Yards Per Rush 3.97 53

So if the offense didn't improve by replacing one offensive guru with another, why did the Irish have reason for optimism this offseason? A defense that finally seems to have found its way after 5 poor years under Charlie Weis.

Brian Kelly brought along a switch to the 3-4 base defense, and with it a bounce back toward the middle of the pack. The pressure up front wasn't great against the pass or the run, with teams having average-ish success in moving the ball on the ground and not getting sacked. It was in the secondary that ND's defense really improved.

With another year in the system, and plenty of returning talent (who had the recruiting stars on their side, at the very least, coming out of high school), the Irish are looking to take another step forward on the defensive side of the ball this season.

Defensive Line

Notre Dame's 3-man front returns both defensive ends, so the only question mark is at nose tackle. Ian Williams was a hot-and-cold starter who performed decently against Michigan last year, and Sean Cwynar will step in to fill his shoes. The depth is light, as redshirt frosh Louis Nix will be expected to step in and contribute immediately, and ND didn't pick up any DTs at all in the 2011 class. The Irish will have much better depth on the edges this year - though young - as they signed approximately every defensive end in the nation last year, including a few highly-recruied ones. Aaron Lynch enrolled early from that group, and impressed this spring.

Notre Dame Defensive Line 2010
Name Tack TFL Sack
Kapron Lewis-Moore 62 2.5 2
Ian Williams 37 3.5 1.5
Ethan Johnson 34 6 5
Sean Cwynar 32 2.5 0
Hafis Williams 11 0.5 0
Emeka Nwankwo 3 0 0
Kona Schwenke 2 0 0
Tyler Stockton 1 1 1

Grade: 3/5. If the incoming freshmen weren't, well, freshmen, I'd rate this group much more highly. It's a crapshoot as to whether they'll be able to step in and contribute immediately, so they can't be relied upon this fall. Defensive tackle is a very sketchy point. Although Sean Cwynar had nearly as many tackles as Ian Williams last year despite much less playing time, the depth is unproven and/or non-existent, with Irish kicking specialists having nearly as many tackles last year as returning backup DTs.


The Irish are all set on the inside. Star MLB Manti Te'o (pictured making a great tackle at right) enters his junior year with two seasons as a starter already under his belt, and his compatriot Carlo Calabrese will be a second-year starter himself. Darius Fleming, the team's most explosive edge-rusher, also returns, leaving only one open slot at the the outside linebacker position. Dan Fox and Prince Shembo will battle for that position, but I'm guessing the more physically gifted Shembo will take the starting spot (their stats were similar last year but Shembo brought much more pass rush, and is the younger player), and Fox will be a valuable backup. Steve Filer will also see increased backup duty on the outside, but depth on the inside is weak, as McDonald and Posluszny have been special teams players to date in their careers.

Notre Dame Linebackers 2010
Name Tack TFL Sack Int
Manti Te'o 133 9.5 1 0
Carlo Calabrese 62 5 2.5 0
Brian Smith 50 3.5 1 1
Darius Fleming 48 10.5 5.5 1
Kerry Neal 42 1.5 1.5 0
Dan Fox 19 0 0 0
Prince Shembo 15 5 4.5 0
Steve Filer 14 0 0 0
Anthony McDonald 11 0 0 0
David Posluszny 1 0 0 0

Grade: 5/5. As Michigan fans saw in last year's game, when not being ridden into members of his own secondary by Patrick Omameh on spinach, Manti Te'o is one of the best defensive players in the country (a 2nd-Team All-American projection by Phil Steele). Carlo Calabrese is a returning starter who racked up some decent stats last year despite playing alongside Te'o, and Darius Fleming is also a returning starter who led the team in TFLs in 2010. That means the only possible question marks are the other outside linebacker slot, which seems to have two viable candidates, including one who was a great edge-rusher in backup duty last year, and depth, which seems very good on the outside, but limited on the inside. With the strength of Notre Dame's top three options, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Defensive Backs

Notre Dame's secondary is led by three-time Zibikowski Memorial White Notre Dame Safety Award winner Harrison Smith, who was the Irish's second-leading tackler last season. He's joined by two other returning starters in Zeke Motta and Gary Gray. Robert Blanton wasn't a starter last year, but he got plenty of snaps on both special teams and defense, so he should be ready to step in for Darrin Walls. Nearly every other defensive back returns for the Irish, so this should be an area of strength.

Notre Dame Defensive Backs 2010
Name Tack TFL Sack Int
Harrison Smith (SS) 91 9 1 2
Gary Gray (CB) 66 1 0 5
Robert Blanton (CB) 53 1.5 0 5
Zeke Motta (FS) 50 1 0 0
Darrin Walls 41 1 0 0
Jamoris Slaughter 31 0.5 0 0
Bennett Jackson 11 0 0 1
Austin Collinsworth 7 0.5 0 0
Dan McCarthy 4 0.5 0 0
Lo Wood 3 0.5 0 1
Chris Salvi 2 3.5 1 0
Michael Garcia 1 0 0 0

Grade: 4/5. As mentioned above, Notre Dame was actually pretty good against the pass last year. They also lose practically nobody off that unit - Walls was only an OK player, and Blanton should be adequate or an upgrade - and gain a lot of experience, especially since it's just their second year in this system. Phil Steele projects Smith to be a 4th-Team All-American.

Special Teams

Both Irish specialists return from last year. David Ruffer will continue the kicks (he was very solid on FGs but weirdly mediocre on extra points) and Ben Turk is the punter.

Notre Dame Kicking 2010
Name FGM FGA % Long XPM XPA %
David Ruffer 18 19 94.74 50 37 40 100
Notre Dame Punting 2010
Name Att Yds Yds/Att
Ben Turk 68 2349 38.34

Grade: 3/5. Ruffer is a 4th-Team All-American projection by Phil Steele, but Turk is mediocre at best. The Irish were below average in net punting last year despite playing several teams that were pretty damn bad on returns last year.



July 22nd, 2011 at 10:49 AM ^

For this game. This game sets the tone for the whole season, in my opinion. I am worried though, they return a good number of starters. We just have to hope their freshman don't get acclimated quickly. Their lack of a punter sticks out to me though. It should mean good field position for us, if we manage to get some stops. Of course, we have to hope our offense is clicking at some level then too. I'm predicting (hoping) for a win in a close game, similar to the past two years, but hopefully not as heart attack inducing.


July 22nd, 2011 at 12:51 PM ^

I'm from South Bend, so I have a deep seeded hate for the Irish. I'd rather beat the Irish than MSU, the team I'm "supposed" to hate the second most. Also I think it's important to build up momentum early in the season and carry it on. It's important for building confidence in the players and for building confidence in the new coaching staff.

UM Indy

July 22nd, 2011 at 2:52 PM ^

with a burning passion BUT what did wins over them get us the last 2 years? I'll tell you what. Unreasonably high expectations and a QB (Tater) who thought his shit didn't stink. As much as I'd love a win over the Domers, I'd take a close loss where's it's obvious there's a great foundation laid on both sides of the ball and subsequent improvement over the course of the season. Implicit in this is a win over Michigan State and/or Ohio State.


July 22nd, 2011 at 1:33 PM ^

all or nothing is fine with me. ND has floyd basically living in residential treatment for alcoholism. he has curfews and is working a program, he's not out there doing the same stuff and not getting caught.

dantonio has repeart offenders get in trouble and sit out the first quarter of a road game or miss the first MAC-cake.

i am not sure why i feel this is different, i just feel like it is. perhaps the difference between giving a guy 8 months to change his life vs only having a week to discipline during the season?

Michael Scarn

July 22nd, 2011 at 2:25 PM ^

I definitely do think there's a marked difference between something happening in season and several months before; obviously it provides an opportunity to find out if they're willing to make serious changes or not.  At the same time, Floyd is also a repeat offender and I don't understand what's wrong with punishing him for less than a whole season for this transgression.  To me, saying all or nothing was a cop out because you're trying to act like you're going to punish him, but in reality he won't miss a single snap.  Not the same, but reminiscent of Dantonio's "zero tolerance" garbage. 
Why not both punish and rehabilitate the kid?


July 22nd, 2011 at 5:29 PM ^

Floyd's previous issues were for underage drinking, he doesn't have multiple DUIs.  Wasn't it Lloyd Carr that once asked a reporter (paraphrasing) if he ever had a beer in college before 21?  

Also, what punishment did Stonum receive for his first DUI and also what discipline did he receive when he violated his probation?

Michael Scarn

July 22nd, 2011 at 8:02 PM ^

My main issue wasn't really with a lack of punishment and I recognize that he doesn't have multiple DUIs. My original points were:
1. Count on him playing
2. The whole "he'll play all or none" comment strikes me as posturing to sound like you're being a strict disciplinarian.
As far as previous Michigan issues, I'm allowed to disagree with how our coaches have handled certain things in the past no? I apologize if it came off as holier than thou, I disagree with the majority of college coaches' handling of disciplinary issues, including Michigan ones, from time to time.


July 22nd, 2011 at 11:03 AM ^

I have a working hypothesis that this game, for the duration that the game is underway, may be the largest gathering of people anywhere on the planet.

I have absolutely nothing to base this on besides pure speculation, but knowing how big the stadium is and how big the event will be in particular, I can't think of a single other event in at least the United States that will draw a larger crowd. Considering the time difference, most people in Europe (which is anywhere between 4-7 hours ahead of us ESTers) will be mostly asleep.

If anyone can think of an event going on at that time that will draw a larger crowd, speak up.

Doctor Sardonicus

July 22nd, 2011 at 12:47 PM ^

Both teams return a lot of talent, the game is at home.  The last two games could have gone either way.  The only real difference is familiarity with a system (1st vs 2nd year), which leads to the "slight underdog" comment, but I think that's sometimes overblown.  I was in South Bend 25 years ago for Holtz's debut and his new system looked pretty good (no punts), in part because his offense wasn't what one would have expected based on his Arkansas/Minnesota game films.  Michigan will be able to do something similar in prepping for this one.


July 22nd, 2011 at 11:45 AM ^

Looking at their roster this year, they have all of the ingredients for a very successful season:

1.  Returning talent - they return about as much talent as anyone

2.  Highly-rated athletes - ND's roster is littered with 4-5* players.  Obvious disclaimer about stars not being the be all and end all, and there are exceptions, but stars are a decent predictor of talent.

3.  Second year in the system - no more growing pains, learning the system, etc.



July 22nd, 2011 at 12:08 PM ^

1.  ND will be very tough for Michigan to beat this year given the teams' talent levels and (likely) comfort level in their offensive and defensive systems.

2.  ND's LBs are over-rated above (only Te'o is elite), and its RBs are underrated.  Wood is a pretty dangerous player.

3. ND's season record will make them look a lot better than they are, and they'll get to a BCS game in which they'll be hammered. 


July 22nd, 2011 at 12:18 PM ^

One thing that isn't that obvious from this:  Depth is a disaster at running back and at corner back.  Lo Wood is the only corner on scholarship other than incoming freshman who are all 3-star types (Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, & Matthias Farley).  

Running back depth is even worse.  Cameron Robinson tore his medial collateral ligament and partially tore his ACL in spring, leaving no scholarship running backs behind Wood and Gray other than incoming freshman.  ND has 2 coming in.  One is generic 3-star Cam McDaniel.  The other is a 3-4 star George Atkinson, whom it was thought that the coaches would turn into a receiver.


July 22nd, 2011 at 8:11 PM ^

I wouldn't call either position a disaster.  The secondary is thin but they aren't looking to fill starting positions with walk-ons.  Roberson was injured early and will be back fro the fall, and cam Mctebow will do just fine, he has more going for him than any star rating. 


July 22nd, 2011 at 9:12 PM ^

I'm skeptical that a partially torn ACL during the spring means that Roberson will be back in the fall.  I'll confess I don't know anything more about McDaniel than the ratings.  You guys definitely don't want to move Riddick to running back.  Most Big Ten teams have one really good receiver (admitedly not as good as Floyd).  But, few can field a 2nd like Riddick.  As for CB, one of your incoming freshmen are 1 injury from having to grow up quickly.  Ask this board how that goes.  Heck, I can answer that.  It's not fun.



July 22nd, 2011 at 9:22 PM ^

Kelly will be putting the ball in Riddick's hands anyway he can.  Whether its a handoff, a pitch, a direct snap or through a reception, his quickness and speed will be key for the offense to be effective.  

The secondary was in much worse shape last year, 2 transfers and a freshman going on mission, then add in the injuries during the year.  This secondary has a lot of snaps under its belt, but I do concede its thin.

Franz Schubert

July 22nd, 2011 at 12:28 PM ^

These are very generous ratings. ND should field a good team but UM beat them in South Bend last year with nothing even resembling a defense. In my opinion the Michigan defense will be shockingly better with the new scheme and coaching.


blue note

July 22nd, 2011 at 4:13 PM ^

Well, in the 1 half + 1 drive Crist played, ND scored 24 points, and we scored 28 for the whole game, so I'm not sure I'd really say we stayed with them when he was in there - more like we barely held on.